The wonderful Susan Carter Liebel just posted a great article on the Solo Practice University site about entrepreneurial addiction – people who are serial entrepreneurs and love the creation process better than the implementation process, and get bored with established routine. Such entrepreneurs, inside or outside of the legal profession, are the life blood of a vibrant country.
I want to shine the spotlight on another, more troubling addiction that seems to be rampant in the legal profession. Excitement. It’s an addiction that typically takes a toll on the attorney’s practice, clients, family, and eventually themselves.
And make no mistake, it’s a true, medically-defined addiction. The more accurate term is “adrenaline addiction” because of the fight or flight hormone produced that is designed to speed us up when danger approaches.
A caveat here. A good, committed attorney will usually experience a consistent amount of stress in their daily practice. Being able to function well in stressful situations is a valuable trait. But for some, the stress either accelerates because of lack of understanding of how to manage and grow a practice, or sometimes because, in a real sense, they crave more of it.
The adrenaline-addicted attorney lives constantly on the edge. Always late for meetings and appointments, drives fast everywhere, never has enough time to do any forward planning to avoid the next crisis or to stay out of chaos, so chaos continues to reign. They are often at odds with judges and opposing counsel. They almost invariably have high staff turnover. They drink copious amounts of coffee or caffeine drinks. They cannot be separated from their mobile devices or their e-mail – 24 hours a day.
And tellingly, they also often have high receivables, because they often have poor judgment on client intake, are short on client responsiveness, and never find enough time to follow up on receivables. As a result, difficult, no-pay clients occupy significant time in their practice and their finances, creating yet more chaos. And in another sense, clients who are uncooperative are another chance for exciting conflict.
For the adrenaline addict, order, predictability, and procedural days are not exciting, but chaos and crisis are. Being late for appointments, arriving at the last minute in court, verbal jousting with frustrated clients and opposing counsel are. Even having high receivables is exciting in a negative way. After all, stress is the first cousin to excitement.
Many attorneys who profess frustration and stress about their practice are, unknowingly, excitement addicts.
Some are naturals. A common cause is growing up in an alcoholic family, where constant volatility and unpredictability created an atmosphere of fear and excitement, and a need to be hypervigilant.
And some were simply trained by the legal profession to be so. How does that occur? They may have begun their careers in firms where the workload was so overwhelming that they were always behind, and the management so overbearing that they were always under fire. In this atmosphere, young attorneys come to believe that high stress and constant crisis are normal components of a successful practice. And when they open their own firms or move to a less demanding and stressful position, they unconsciously go about creating the familiar – even though unpleasant – atmosphere.
How does the adrenaline addict feed their addiction? By –
• Taking in difficult clients that, at some level they know will be a collections challenge.
• Taking too many clients, so that they will always be overworked and under organized.
• Not investing sufficient time with cases to strategize, schedule, get the work done, and build strong client relationships.
• Not having sufficient support team, or even worse, not effectively utilizing their support team.
• Viewing every encounter, from client to opposing counsel to judge, as opponents to be outsmarted and vanquished, rather than collaborators in the legal process.
• Drinking 3 or more caffeinated drinks daily
• Frequent offensive driving behavior, such as tailgating, speeding or road rage
• Constant scheduling of appointments, meetings and events with little down time in-between, and always on-the-go
• Frequently causing drama between him or herself and others, or knowingly putting him or herself into stressful situations
And the result?
For the practice –
• An attorney and staff who work long hours inefficiently and at a high level of stress
• High staff turnover
• High client dissatisfaction and resulting high receivables
• Periodic grievances and even occasional malpractice suits
• Damaged professional reputation
• Financial struggles
For the attorney’s personal life –
• Relationship turmoil, alienated children and family
• Broken promises
• Potential or actual health problems
• Lots of high-risk sports and activities
• Other addictions, such as alcohol, gambling
• Overspending, credit card debt, impulse buying, financial problems
• Lots of toys quickly discarded
If you see a bit of yourself in any of this and want to make it different (and there’s the rub – it’s a hugely difficult addiction to give up), I’ve provided some useful reading below. And I’d be happy to chat about how I might help you change that behavior into others that promote a healthy practice and a healthier life. Give me a call at 407-830-9810.
Some useful reading:
Can You Be Addicted To Entrepreneurship? – Solo Practice University
The ACOA Laundry List of Traits, Trait 8 – Excitement
The Painful Reality of Adrenaline Addiction
How to Overcome Adrenaline Addiction: Tips From A Former Addict
Adrenaline Self Test
Are You Addicted to Your Own Stress?
ADDICTED TO ADRENALINE?